Second HIV baby born in Latvia

  • 2000-07-06
  • By Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - As the battle against AIDS continues, more and more babies are
born infected with the deadly HIV virus. Last month, an 18-month old
girl was diagnosed HIV positive at the AIDS Prevention Center in
Riga. So far this year, 191 persons have been registered at the

"She is the second baby born in Latvia with HIV. There are still 12
HIV positive women pregnant," Inga Upmace, director for the AIDS
Prevention Center, said.

Doctors have to wait almost 18 months before they can perform tests
on children to ascertain whether they are carriers of the virus.

"Children are born with their mothers' antibodies, and only after one
year can we determine whether a child's antibodies are still from the
mother or developed in the child," Upmace said. "We must examine more
pregnancies to understand more precisely how it works. If the mothers
receive treatment during the pregnancy, only two to three percent of
the babies born could be infected."

The Ministry of Welfare has taken some steps towards slowing down
HIV's spread in Latvia.

"According to a document from the Ministry of Welfare, every woman
will have to be examined twice during her pregnancy for HIV
antibodies," Upmace said.

There has been an explosion among drug users in Latvia. Today they
are by far the biggest risk group in the country.

"The situation up to 1997 was stable with 20 registered cases of HIV
or AIDS per year. Then HIV was basically transferred only through
sex. Today, the biggest risk group is drug users. At the end of 1997,
we had 88 persons registered in the center. In 1998 we had 163 more
cases. Last year we had 241 more, and so far this year we have 191
more registered HIV or AIDS cases in Latvia," Upmace said. "Today we
have 683 registered HIV cases in Latvia and 60 of them have full
blown AIDS."

The UNAIDS recently released a report on the HIV/AIDS epidemic - June
2000. The report states that Latvia had 1,250 living adults and
children carrying HIV or AIDS by the end of 1999. It also confirms
drug users in Eastern Europe are at a greater risk of contracting HIV.

The report shows global numbers at the end of1999: people living with
HIV/AIDS, 34.5 million; people newly infected with HIV in 1999, 5.4
million; AIDS deaths in 1999, 2.8 million. Finally, it shows the
total number of AIDS deaths since the beginning of the epidemic: 18.8
million people.

Upmace confirmed an epidemic in Latvia affects a certain sector.

"It is only among drug users and homosexuals. The trend is that more
and more women are infected. Now approximately 25 percent of all
cases in Latvia are women. We can expect more babies born with HIV in
Latvia," Upmace said.

Viesturs Trofimovs, social assistant in the Narcological Center, said
most people with HIV or AIDS in Latvia are young and suffer the
needle chill.

"Right now, most of the people who are AIDS positive in Latvia are
drug users, unfortunately," Trofimovs said.

The Ministry of Welfare has recognized the situation in Latvia. A
national commission for inhibiting the spread of sexually transmitted
diseases has been formed. On July 15, 1999, the ministry approved a
strategy for limiting the spread of HIV and AIDS in Latvia.

"The situation is very serious. The biggest problems are with the
drug users. We are working with prisons, street children and public
education as a prevention measure," Dr. Gunta Grisle, head of
public health policy at the Ministry of Welfare, said.

Grisle drew a small diagram showing that the situation in Latvia is
likely to grow worse before a change can be noticed. There is an
action plan in connection with the strategy. Still theforcast is not

"Our prognosis is that it will take 10 years before the numbers [of
HIV infected} will drop, but I don't know. Please don't write 10
years," Grisle said.

In the meantime, the state is funding all treatment and tests
necessary for HIV and AIDS positive people in Latvia. This is an
expensive treatment, and the outcome is not guaranteed.

"The treatment is very expensive. It costs 374 lats to 740 lats ($624
to $1233) per patient every month. The state is currently funding
everything, but in the future, this could be a big problem for the
state budget if the number of patients increases," Grisle said.

So far 18 persons have died diagnosed AIDS positive in Latvia. This
number will increase, health professionals predict.